AHL Weekly: Making the final pieces fit

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Twelve teams have already punched their tickets to the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs, but 10 teams are still alive for the remaining four entries and a pair of division titles remain up for grabs as the American Hockey League’s 74th regular season enters its final week.

Updated AHL standings
Calder Cup Playoffs qualification rules

With a crossover potentially in play in the Eastern Conference, Lowell (84), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (83) and Bridgeport (82) currently occupy the last three available spots, with Norfolk (80) in close pursuit of that trio with three home games on tap for this week. Hartford (77) and Providence (76) are both still in the hunt but in danger of seeing lengthy playoff streaks come to an end, and Binghamton (76) has used a 12-4-1-0 run since Mar. 3 to stay alive into the closing week.

The rest of the East Division needs binoculars to see first-place Hershey (121) on the horizon, and Albany (92) is locked into second place, its best finish since 1998-99. In the Atlantic, Worcester (100) and Portland (99) are neck-and-neck at the top, setting up a potential showdown for the crown on Sunday afternoon in Maine, and Manchester (93) is back in the playoffs after its first-ever miss in 2009.

In the race for the West Division’s fourth and final playoff slot, Milwaukee (87) holds a three-point edge on Peoria (84) and can wrap it up with a regulation win over the Rivermen on Tuesday afternoon. San Antonio (80) remains alive but would need to win its remaining four games and hope for significant help in order to qualify. Chicago (101) is bidding for its second division title in three years and sits four points up on Texas (97) entering the home stretch, while Rockford (90) has clinched a playoff spot and will battle either the Wolves or the Stars in round one.

Defending Western Conference champion Manitoba (81) clinched the North Division’s final playoff entry on Saturday night and is four points back of Abbotsford (85) for third place; the loser of that race will have to take on division-champion Hamilton (112) in the opening round. Rochester (89), returning to postseason play for the first time since 2007, is still trying to lock down second place but can finish no lower than third.

The 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs will begin next week with 16 teams looking to capture the American Hockey League championship.

AHL standings
Scores and schedules
League leaders

TIEBREAKERS … Following are the tiebreaking procedures used in the event of a tie in the standings following the completion of the regular season on Sunday. When a tie among three or more teams is broken resulting in a two-team tie, the original tiebreaking method is used.

Between two teams:
a) wins
b) points in season series between teams
c) goal differential
d) goals scored in season series between teams
e) intra-conference points percentage

Among three or more teams:
a) wins
b) points percentage in combined season series
c) goal differential
d) goal differential in combined season series
e) intra-conference points percentage

SWEET TIMES IN HERSHEY … Last weekend proved to be memorable for the Hershey Bears, beginning with Saturday night’s announcement that the Bears will host the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 30-21, 2011, as part of the league’s 75th anniversary season. That same night, Hershey posted a 6-1 victory over Syracuse to set an AHL record for wins in a season (58) and clinch the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular-season points champion.

Then in Sunday’s regular-season Giant Center finale, the Bears’ 3-2 decision over Norfolk gave them league records of 34 wins and 70 points on home ice this season. Hershey, which will be the higher seed for as far as it goes in the postseason, finished 34-4-0-2 at Giant Center.

With 121 points for the season and three games left to play, the Bears need three more points to match the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers for the AHL single-season record (124) in that category.

BULLISH MARKS FOR HAMILTON … While Hershey continues its assault on history, the Hamilton Bulldogs (51-16-3-7) have also put together a superb season and will have to make some changes to their own record book this summer. Boosted by top forwards David Desharnais (27-51-78) and Brock Trotter (36-41-77), along with AHL All-Rookie and First Team All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban (18-35-53, plus-46), the Bulldogs have already set franchise records for wins and points in a season while running away with the North Division and Western Conference regular-season titles.

With three games still left, the 2009-10 Hamilton squad is one of just 13 teams in AHL history to compile as many as 112 points in a season. The Bulldogs’ goaltending tandem of Second Team AHL All-Star Cedrick Desjardins and Curtis Sanford has surrendered a league-low 2.25 goals per game, and the Bulldogs rank second only to Hershey in team offense, averaging 3.42 goals scored per contest.

… Of the 12 teams who have clinched playoff spots thus far, six did not take part in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs… Jim Johnson, who posted a 13-2-1-1 mark as Norfolk’s head coach prior to being named an assistant with parent-club Tampa Bay, returned to the Admirals’ bench on Saturday for the balance of the season… Mike McKenzie, the son of TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie, recorded an assist in his professional debut for Albany on Saturday night… Jacob Micflikier’s penalty-shot goal in that game marked the River Rats’ first successful attempt since Feb. 20, 2007, when Keith Aucoin beat Bridgeport’s Wade Dubielewicz… Peoria’s Cam Paddock has matched an AHL season high with a six-game goal-scoring streak (7-1-8), and he has nine points (7-2-9) in his last seven games after totaling 11 points (4-7-11) in his first 40 contests… Grand Rapids rookie Tomas Tatar notched the first two-goal game of his pro career on Friday at Abbotsford… Lowell is 3-6-0-2 in its last 11 contests; one win came in a shootout, and the other two were courtesy of overtime goals by defenseman Cory Murphy… With nine goals in his last seven games and 46 for the year, Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux is closing in on his second straight 50-goal season, a feat accomplished by only three players in AHL history… Toronto is 22-3-6-5 in one-goal games this season and 10-31-0-0 in games decided by more than one goal… Abbotsford has a league-low three regulation losses when scoring the game’s first goal (24-3-4-2).